With the news that the State Department had blocked Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from testifying to Congress on Tuesday, CNN Newsroom went live to Capitol Hill for reaction. After showing remarks from Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan, co-host Jim Sciutto continued the media's new favorite hobby of pretentious fact-checking, almost always devoted to "correcting" the Republicans. In the end, it was Sciutto who needed the fact-checker.
Co-host Poppy Harlow ignored legitimate State Department concerns about selective leaking from Democrats and condemned Foggy Bottom for blocking Sondland from testifying. "Since when is it up to the State Department to determine if they like the investigation or not?" Sciutto responded by saying, "They're blocking all requests for documents, subpoenas, et cetera, going back into the Mueller investigation."
Blocking "all" requests? In fact, as Bloomberg reported, when it came to the Mueller probe, the Trump White House "voluntarily turned over tens of thousands of documents and allowed more than two dozen White House staffers -- from White House Counsel McGahn to initial Chief of Staff Reince Priebus -- to be interviewed without asserting executive privilege."
This is also a strange accusation on the new Ukraine controversy, when the White House released both the original complaint and the transcript of the call with Volodymyr Zelensky, a transcript that is considered by many in the media to be so damning that it warrants President Trump's impeachment, but that they were under no obligation to release.
Sciutto then began introducing the panel, but stopped himself, and launched into his fact-check. "Just one quick fact-check here ‘cause Jim Jordan said Adam Schiff met with the whistleblower prior, that's not true. He didn't meet with him. The whistleblower apparently reached out to the office and was guided the whistleblower complaint via the process, so we should just briefly fact-check that."
There are two problems with Sciutto's fact-check here. When it comes to congressional investigations, Adam Schiff and his staff are nearly synonymous and as Sciutto concedes, a meeting took place. Schiff originally denied that meeting ever happened, a claim that resulted in the Washington Post giving him four Pinocchios.
Second, Jordan didn't actually say what Sciutto accused him of saying. Jordan said at his press gaggle, "you have a chairman of the committee who is so biased against this president that he wouldn't even tell us that he had met with -- his staff met with the whistleblower prior to the whistleblower filing the complaint."
If the media wants the Trump era to be the golden age of fact-checking, they cannot afford to make wild allegations of total non-cooperation with investigations, or accuse Republicans of saying things they didn't say. After all, fact-checking works both ways.
Here is a transcript of the October 8 show:
CNN Newsroom with Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow
9:37 AM ET
JIM SCIUTTO: Looks like he ran out without questions, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Actually, here come Republican members of that committee. Let's listen in.
JIM JORDAN: We understand the reason why the State Department decided not to have Ambassador Sondland appear today. It's based on the unfair and partisan process that Mr. Schiff has been running. You think about what the Democrats are trying to do, impeach the President of the United States, 13 months prior to an election, based on an anonymous whistle-blower with no firsthand knowledge who has a bias against the president. And the guy running the process, Chairman Schiff, didn't even tell us he met with the whistle-blower prior to the whistle-blower filing the complaint. Adam Schiff didn't tell us -- the way he treated Ambassador Sondland last week in this -- excuse me, Ambassador Volker in this interview last week, that's -- that treatment is the reason why the administration, the State Department said we're not going to subject Ambassador Sondland to the same treatment.
And, look, we were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland. We thought he was going to reinforce exactly what Ambassador Volker told us last week. But again, unfortunately, when you have a Speaker of the House who says we need to strike while the iron’s hot, when you have a chairman of the committee who is so biased against this president that he wouldn't even tell us that he had met with -- his staff met with the whistle-blower prior to the whistle-blower filing the complaint.
This and frankly, this is a pattern with Mr. Schiff. He did the same thing, if you remember the first big hearing the Democrats did this congress, Michael Cohen. He didn't tell us his staff met with Mr. Cohen four hours prior to Mr. Cohen testifying. He didn't tell us last summer he met with Mr. Simpson out in Colorado, palling around with the guy from Fusion GPS. So this is a pattern. Like I said, we were hoping to hear from the ambassador today but we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, look if it's going to be this kind of process, if you'll selectively leak text messages, 67 pages of text messages we had, they take a handful of them and release to all of you and not give the full context and not release the transcript, we understand why they made this decision at this moment. I'm going to let some of my --
JIM SCIUTTO: Alright, that Republican view of the world and the Democratic view of the world. Interesting to hear Jim Jordan, a staunch defender of the president, saying that he and Republican members of the committee were looking forward to hearing from—
POPPY HARLOW: Yeah
SCIUTTO: --Sondland as well, but defending the decision to block his testimony calling the impeachment inquiry an “unfair and partisan operation.” Of course, Schiff there, the news, Schiff, the chairman is saying that there were text messages and emails on a personal device of Ambassador Sondland that the State Department has and is withholding from the house. That is new and pertinent to the investigation.
HARLOW: I don't know if Schiff and the intelligence committee have seen them, but he did say that they are, quote, deeply relevant to the probe. So it would indicate that perhaps they have. It also struck me, I don't know if it struck you, we heard Jim Jordan defending Sondland not testifying and the State Department blocking that testimony saying that it's because it is in his view a partisan investigation. Since when is it up to the State Department to determine if they like the investigation or not? To a co-equal branch of government?
SCIUTTO: Yeah, well, that's been a fundamental position of this administration. They're blocking all requests for documents, subpoenas, et cetera, going back into the Mueller investigation. A lot to talk about here with Jennifer Rogers, Susan Glasser and Seung Lin Kim. Jennifer, help us understand from a legal perspective, actually before I do that, just one quick fact-check here ‘cause Jim Jordan said Adam Schiff met with the whistle-blower prior, that's not true. He didn't meet with him. The whistle-blower apparently reached out to the office and was guided the whistleblower complaint via the process, so we should just briefly fact-check that.